At 19, Carlos Alcaraz has just beaten Nadal, Djokovic and Zverev: NPR


Carlos Alcaraz makes a return to Novak Djokovic en route to a semi-final win at the Madrid Open tennis tournament. Alcaraz won the tournament, placing him higher in the world top 10.

Manu Fernandez/AP


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Manu Fernandez/AP

At 19, Carlos Alcaraz has just beaten Nadal, Djokovic and Zverev: NPR

Carlos Alcaraz makes a return to Novak Djokovic en route to a semi-final win at the Madrid Open tennis tournament. Alcaraz won the tournament, placing him higher in the world top 10.

Manu Fernandez/AP

When Carlos Alcaraz saw Rafael Nadal walk off the court during the Madrid Open on Friday, he did what he’s done countless times before: stand up and applaud. But there was a big difference. Alcaraz had just beaten Nadal for the first time, bouncing back his longtime idol and fellow tournament Spaniard.

The victory was quickly seen as a defining moment for Alcaraz, with tournament organizers sharing an old photo showing Nadal posing with the young fan who would grow to defeat him.

Alcaraz then put an exclamation mark on the achievement by winning the tournament. To do so, he beat three of the top five players in the world, becoming the youngest player to accomplish this feat at an event since the ATP Tour began in 1990.

Like other records Alcaraz set during his young career, his latest feat indicates where he could be headed: Novak Djokovic, the former record holder, was 20 when he beat Roger Federer, Nadal and Andy Roddick in 2007, when they were respectively the 1st and 3rd players in the world at a tournament in Montreal.

Alcaraz turned 19 on Thursday

Here is how he spent the following days:

  • Friday: Defeated world No. 4 Nadal in three sets
  • Saturday: Defeated World No. 1 Djokovic in three sets
  • Sunday: Defeated World No. 3 Alexander Zverev in straight sets

Afterwards, Alcaraz said he felt good – and he said he was ready for more.

“I would say this is my best week,” Alcaraz said. “I mean, I beat two of the best players in history, beating Zverev in the final, a great player too, world No. 3.”

Alcaraz is often referred to by his nickname, Carlitos. But the youngster owned the clay courts of Madrid last week, dominating the points with his forehand and winning rallies with fearless creativity and deadly cushioning.

To close Nadal, he rushed to the net at match point – a phrase little used in the tennis world, due to Nadal’s shooting skills – then landed a precise winner in the corner after Nadal almost won the point.

Here are a few other things you should know about the young star:

Alcaraz doesn’t sneak up on anyone

The sports world is prone to hype. But Alcaraz is widely regarded as one of the most exciting and talented players to emerge in men’s tennis in years.

“Right now you are the best player in the world” Zverev said on the pitch after Sunday’s game. He jokingly added, “Even though you’re still five years old, you’re still beating us.”

Alcaraz is currently the No. 6 player in the world, moving up three spots this week after adding almost 1,000 points to his ATP rankings. He has climbed on the strength of a showy 28-3 record in match play so far in 2022.

At 19, Alcaraz is the youngest player to win five ATP Tour titles from Nadalwho was 18 when he scored in 2005. Four of those championships have come in 2022 – the most of any player.

Many tennis fans discovered Alcaraz when he burst onto the scene at the US Open last fall, reaching the quarter-finals. But after defeating Stefanos Tsitsipas and Peter Gojowczyk in five-set matches, the 18-year-old retired midway through his next match.

Last month, Alcaraz became the youngest men’s champion at the Miami Open – after defeating Tsitsipas again.

Those who congratulated him included Nadal – who had beat Alcaraz in Indian Wells in March — and tennis legend Billie Jean King.

And after: a confrontation in Paris

The Madrid tournament has long served as a tune-up at Roland Garros, helping pros get used to playing on clay courts. The major tournament begins in Paris later this month, and French Open organizers are eagerly awaiting the dynamic new arrival from Alcaraz.

Nadal, Zverev and Djokovic all reached the semi-finals of last year’s French Open, where Djokovic eventually beat Stefanos Tsitsipas for the title. But for now, all eyes are on Alcaraz.

“Carlos Alcaraz wins the biggest clay-court title of his career”, Roland-Garros announced on Twitterafter the Spaniard won the Madrid Open.

“For now,” he added in a follow-up message.

Alcaraz is skipping the Italian Open to rest his ankle, which he wound in his quarter-final match in Madrid.

He will always be a favorite to win it all, says Nadal

Nadal beat Alcaraz at the Madrid Open last year. At the start of this year’s tournament, Nadal said Alcaraz no longer had to look up to him as he is now reaching the heights of the sport.

“When you are young and very good, the process is faster than normal people,” Nadal said. “So he’s not a normal guy, like Novak wasn’t a normal guy, like Roger wasn’t a normal guy, and probably [I] was not a normal guy.”

From now on, Nadal said, Alcaraz will be considered a favorite in every tournament he enters.




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